Review: The Face on the Bar Room Floor (1914)

>> Saturday, March 27, 2010

USA/Silent/B&W-12m./Dir: Charles Chaplin/Wr: Hugh Antoine d’Arcy & Charles Chaplin/Cast: Charles Chaplin (Artist), Cecile Arnold (Madeleine), Jess Dandy (The lover who stole her), Vivian Edwards (Model)

The reputation of the early Charlie Chaplin short The Face on the Bar Room Floor has been sullied over the years due to the condition of the existing film elements. Modern critics approaching the film for the first time are often confronted with ragged, incomplete prints with choppy images, missing or rewritten intertitles, and scenes assembled in the incorrect order. Naturally, the resulting reviews have been more harsh and dismissive than the film deserves. This is a shame, because The Face on the Bar Room Floor is one of the most ambitious and successful of the Keystone comedies that Chaplin produced during his first year in the movie business.

The Face on the Bar Room Floor was Chaplin’s first attempt at parody, satirizing a popular Hugh Antoine d’Arcy poem of the same name. The poem, which was well known to 1914 audiences, relays the story of a vagabond who enters a saloon and begs drinks off the barflies in exchange for telling the tale of how he was laid low. According to the drifter’s story, he was once a great artist, but he turned to drink after the girl he loved ran off with a fair-haired youth. After relaying the narrative, the vagabond sketches a picture of his beloved on the floor of the bar and falls upon it dead.

Chaplin’s parody of the maudlin ballad follows the narrative of the poem fairly closely, even using direct quotes from d’Arcy’s verses in the title cards. However, Chaplin’s reenactment of the familiar story exaggerates (and occasionally contradicts) the described actions for comic effect, ridiculing the source material and stripping it of all possible pathos. The vagabond of the poem is portrayed, of course, as Chaplin’s famous drunken tramp, belching, staggering, and stumbling as he downs drinks and imparts his weepy tale. For the flashbacks of the artist in his prime, Chaplin dresses in a full tuxedo. Not only does the costume amplify the height from which the vagabond fell to a ridiculous extent; it also allows Chaplin to mine the comic possibilities of a filthy artist’s studio, including distractedly dabbing his dressy duds with his paint brush and absentmindedly sitting on his paint palette.

As the title cards go on to describe the fair-haired boy who stole the artist’s love, we see instead a middle-aged, balding, rotund actor with a bushy, black mustache. Upon completing his sad story, Chaplin’s tramp attempts to draw a likeness of his lady love on the barroom floor like the vagabond of the poem, but in his lubricated condition, he can only manage a sloppy smiley face. He also collapses onto the drawing, but unlike the hero of the poem, he isn’t dead. He’s simply dead drunk.

While none of Chaplin’s work at Keystone is as brilliant or nuanced as the comedian’s later work, this early attempt at Mad Magazine-style* parody is both historically interesting and fairly amusing. It’s definitely better than its reputation would lead one to believe.

*Another parody of d’Arcy’s poem appeared in Mad #10, illustrated by Jack Davis and Basil Wolverton.

Drinks Consumed--Whiskey and beer

Intoxicating Effects--Belching, staggering, stumbling, brawling, and passing out

Potent Quotables--TITLE CARD: “Give me a drink – that’s what I want.
I’m out of funds you know.
When I had funds to treat this gang,
This hand was never slow.”

Video Availability--The Face on the Bar Room Floor, like most of the public domain Keystone shorts, is available on numerous budget DVDs and as a free stream on the Internet. However, those videos are derived from badly decayed prints, with scenes obviously assembled in the wrong order. An effort is currently underway by the British Film Institute to restore all of the Chaplin Keystone shorts, so the Keystones will eventually be available on video in improved condition. In the meantime, the best available reconstruction of the short is available on YouTube and is embedded above.

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Chaplin next got drunk with fellow comic Fatty Arbuckle in the Keystone classic, The Rounders (1914).

Charlie Chaplin at Keystone and Essanay: Dawn of the Tramp
The Comedy of Charlie Chaplin: Artistry in Motion
Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema


Booze News: Drunk History - Tesla & Edison

>> Saturday, March 20, 2010

Greetings, soused cinema enthusiasts,

I apologize for the lack of reviews lately. Your affable guide to alky-centric film has been struck by a monster cold. I did, however, feel it necessary to pull my ailing body from the comfort of couch to let you know that Drunk History has returned to HBO's Funny or Die Presents (a show that apart from the Drunk History segments has been much more "die" than "funny").

Last night's installment featured a history lesson on Tesla and Edison, narrated by Duncan Trussell after drinking a six-pack of beer and a half a bottle of absinthe. Nikola Tesla is portrayed by John C. Reilly and Thomas Edison is Crispin Glover. Check your listings or consult your DVR to catch the repeats.

Hopefully, I will return later in the week with a review of Charlie Chaplin's The Face on the Bar Room Floor (1914). I the meantime, it's back to the couch (sniffle, cough, sniffle).



Review: Moonshine County Express (1977)

>> Saturday, March 6, 2010

USA/C-110m./Dir: Gus Trikonis/Wr: Hubert Smith & Daniel Ansley/Cast: John Saxon (J.B. Johnson), Susan Howard (Dot Hammer), William Conrad (Jack Starkey), Morgan Woodward (Sweetwater), Claudia Jennings (Betty Hammer), Maureen McCormick (Sissy Hammer), Dub Taylor (Uncle Bill), Jeff Corey (Preacher)

Marcia, Marcia, Marcia! If Moonshine County Express is remembered at all today, it is as one of the few big screen releases to feature Brady Bunch girl Maureen McCormick in a supporting role. That’s unfortunate; because McCormick’s vapid performance is the least interesting element in one of the more enjoyable entries in the 1970’s moonshine movie genre.

The film is a David versus Goliath story, with whiskey taking the place of the slingshot. When Pap Hammer, a minor league moonshiner, is murdered by his rich, well-connected rival, Jack Starkey (William Conrad), the small-timer’s daughters (Susan Howard, Claudia Jennings, and McCormick) are pressured to leave the county. The Hammer girls decide instead to stand up to Starkey, and they find just the right weapon in their pap’s secret stash of 90-proof, Prohibition-era, bonded whiskey. The girls undercut Starkey’s whiskey prices with the local merchants and provide higher quality booze to boot, so the big man’s business quickly dries up. When Starkey starts feelin’ the squeeze, he plans to slaughter the Hammer girls and steal their stash of primo whiskey. However, what Starkey doesn’t know is that his best driver (John Saxon) has switched sides and is in bed (figuratively and literally) with the girls.

While Moonshine County Express is no classic, it is an enjoyable time-waster that outshines most moonshine movies of the era in three areas:

1) The Script – While most of the 70's drive-in moonshine movies were merely variations on the insanely successful Thunder Road (1958), in which a speed demon drives circles around the feds and rival bootleggers, Moonshine County Express, focused instead on a trio of wronged women who take matters into their own hands. While John Saxon receives top billing as the typical lead-footed moonrunner, his character is secondary and weak-willed in relation to the ladies. The story is a welcome change to a stale formula.

2) The Cast – With the exception of the remarkably uncharismatic McCormick, the actors are far better than the material. The leads, Susan Howard and John Saxon, are never believable as hillbillies, but they give stronger performances than you usually find in a drive-in flick. However, the real fun is in watching A-list character actors, such as William Conrad, Dub Taylor, and Jeff Corey having a great time hamming it up.

3) The Booze – Moonshine movies are generally about driving booze rather than drinking it, but this is one film where the bootleggers actually enjoy their own product. While it would be going too far to say that this movie was soaked in corn liquor, it does at least get a little damp.

In short, Moonshine County Express is junk, but it is enjoyable junk. It may not go down as smoothly as prime, aged whiskey, but it ain’t rotgut either.

Drinks Consumed--Whiskey (moonshine and bonded) and beer

Intoxicating Effects--Bad breath, staggering, and slurred speech

Potent Quotables--DOT: Well, ladies, here’s to our pap. (She downs a slug)
BETTY: Alright. That do it to ya?
DOT: Oh, that’s nice. That’s nice. (She passes the jar to Sissy) Have some.
SISSY: Mmmm. He sure did make good ‘shine.
DOT: ‘Shine? Honey, that ain’t 'shine. That’s real Prohibition bootleg.

Video Availability--Moonshine County Express was released long ago on VHS, but it has never officially been released on disc. However, Yammering Magpie Cinema has a full frame collector’s copy available on DVD. The video quality is on par with VHS, but you may have no other opportunity to check out this rarity. The DVD can be purchased on Yammering Magpie’s Website HERE.

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Maureen McCormick starred in another drunken hillbilly drive-in flick, the unwatchable Texas Lightning (1981), directed by Gary Graver (the cinematographer of Moonshine County Express).

Moonshine County Express - Movie Poster - 27 x 40


Booze News: Tickets for Tales of the Cocktail are now available!

Good morning, fellow inebriates,

As previously mentioned, your truly will be moderating "Hollywood Cocktails - Louisiana Style," a seminar at the upcoming Tales of the Cocktail festival in New Orleans on July 23rd. Ticket packages are now available for the fest (July 21-25) at the following link:

Perhaps I'll see you there.

In the meantime, I will return later this weekend with a review of the 1977 drive-in flick, Moonshine County Express.


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I like to drink. I like to watch movies. I like to watch movies about drinking. I like to write about the movies I’ve watched, but only if I’ve had a drink first.

All text including the title "Booze Movies: The 100 Proof Film Guide" Copyright William T. Garver

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